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Black Lives Matter

Since the tragic killing of George Floyd on May 25, our staff have been in deep listening mode — thinking and discussing internally how to most effectively act in solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives in the pursuit of racial justice.

We continue to mourn the incessant violence enacted by police on the unarmed bodies of black citizens such as Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Rayshard Brooks and so many more. As our collective resistance grows, we are witness to the tactics of intimidation, escalation, and excessive force used by agents of the state against protesters. The broader systemic failure of these publicly funded agencies, allegedly tasked to serve and protect, is being laid bare.

We affirm that there will be no justice in this country until we acknowledge that all black lives matter and we begin to reshape our institutions in support of that belief. The scope of policing must be reduced, while the reach of social services, health care, education, and cultural activities must grow. The coming reinvestment in communities will require a critical anti-racist approach, if we are to move together towards justice.

As a nonprofit organization at the intersection of art, science, and technology, we acknowledge that the nonprofit industrial complex, the arts sector, the production of scientific knowledge, and the development of technological innovation are all embedded within oppressive systems that have perpetuated white supremacy. As an historically white-led institution, we carry a legacy of privilege that must be examined, unpacked, and reorganized in order to move forward in service of equity and justice. Working with media artists who are experimenting with emerging technologies and new tools, our work is fraught with technological fetishism and obsession with novelty. With our gaze oriented towards the future, we can either blindly pursue creative innovation in service of inequitable resource accumulation, or we can choose to apply our creativity to reimagine a more just, inclusive world. Our call to action is clear.

We have begun a strategic planning process that will provide a framework for change in our organization, taking into account contemporary conditions: the growing momentum of the movement for racial equity in our home communities and the localization of activity due to the pandemic. As we embark on this work, we commit to the following actions:

Internal Actions

  • Address anti-blackness within our organization through learning about and implementing anti-oppression principles in board recruitment, hiring, training, program design, partnerships, curation, artist selection, and outreach.
  • Review the historical values of our organization and explicitly articulate our contemporary values, especially those rooted in equity, to guide future strategy.
  • Fund staff to participate in professional development around equity.

External Actions

  • Assess the needs of our communities to the best of our capacity through surveys and stakeholder discussions, specifically seeking feedback from artists and communities of color.
  • Bring the perspective and practices of our international work home with the development of local programming and partnerships.
  • Produce programming that builds skills, wellness, and community among artists engaged in movement work.
  • Leverage our resources and provide a platform for the creative, critical voices of change who are helping us to reimagine a just future.

As members of our community, we rely on your perspective and collective wisdom to guide us in our work. We invite your comments and reflections on the work we have done and the proposed actions above. Please be in touch and share your thoughts so that we may refine our efforts.

In solidarity,

Team ZERO1

ZERO1 hosted Moscow-based street artist Slava PTRK from October-November 2019 through the CEC ArtsLink Fellowship. During their residencies, Fellows have the opportunity to research and develop community-based projects, present new art practices from their regions and spark collaborative projects with U.S. artists.

What were you researching in San Francisco as a CEC ArtsLink Fellow?

The main topic of my research was the theme of police violence and the relationship between society and the police system in the United States. For this purpose, I met with people from social justice organizations, with artists and curators, and also independently studied this subject on open sources on the Internet.

In addition to the main topic, I got acquainted with local street and contemporary art, and tried to understand what life in the United States and in California in particular is like. I took up a very extensive and complex topic, so while in residence I tried not only to get specialized information on the topic of law enforcement, but also to get acquainted with the American lifestyle and way of thinking in general.

What was something surprising you discovered as a result of your research?

I just started my research, but I realized that the American law enforcement system and their Russian colleagues have much more in common than I thought. This surprised me - for all the differences between these two countries and the two systems, they really have many common problems and ambiguous moments.

But there are also some significant differences. For example, Russia doesn’t have such a large number of human rights organizations. I was surprised at how many different organizations and community groups are active in the United States. I was also surprised that many of these groups are engaged in specialized human rights activities - for example, protecting the rights of women and transgender people in California prisons. It is great and I would be glad if in Russia there was such variety of the human rights organizations.

What did you notice about the street art scene in San Francisco that's similar to or different from the one in Moscow or Yekaterinburg where you're from?

I was interested and curious to discover Latin American style murals – I’ve never seen anything like it. Many of them are made in bright colors and dedicated to famous people from the spheres of culture, science, politics or made in memory of victims (victims of war, revolution or police brutality). I have collected a quite big collection of photos of such works, and I will try to use them as inspiration in my future projects.

In San Francisco, there are not so many façade-sized murals, which is currently very popular around the world. There are more Latin American murals and classic graffiti works hiding in small alleys between major streets. At the same time, I still managed to find several large high-quality drawings on the façades of houses in the city center, made by famous American and foreign artists.

This is quite different from Russia - our street art is not like Latin American style murals (I see Precita Eyes Muralists doing some in this style), we use a smaller palette of colors and often work illegally, which affects the quality of the details. Also, our classic graffiti (where you write your name on the wall) is different from California - here it is richer, more diverse, brighter and more interesting.

Did you learn or experience anything during your time in San Francisco that you'll incorporate into your future practice?

Before this trip I’d never had such a long and deep immersion in the culture and life of another country. And although my English is far from perfect, I still managed to learn a lot about America and the people living here during my stay in California.

In addition, I improved my skills in independent work and how to self-organize my workflow, research schedule, meetings and much more. And, of course, all of the public speeches, lectures and meetings were very interesting and useful for me. I was happy to test myself (in presentations) and meet a lot of interesting people (and have the chance to work with them). It was an invaluable and important experience, now I will feel more confident during foreign and Russian trips.

What was a memorable moment of cultural exchange you experienced during your time in San Francisco?

My host Shamsher and I conceived the idea of making a drawing on the folding gates at the entrance to the Gray Area. A consideration was the pre-existing graffiti from local graffiti artists that was already there. My idea was to make one of the works from a series of recursions - in this case, I don’t destroy the original image on the wall, but reproduce it with maximum accuracy, copying it inside itself, creating the illusion of depth and volume on a flat surface.

However, the graffiti artist, the author of the previous image, did not understand my idea and was against any changes to his piece. In this situation, Shamsher, some Gray Area staff, and I had to use all the diplomatic and persuasive skills we possessed. The author of the previous piece was furious when we didn’t wait for his answer since I had to leave the city in a couple of days, and I had to begin to make the new work. He made threats, promised to restore his work to the same place, and demanded a check from me as financial compensation. However, when the artist came the next day to paint over my finished piece, he saw that I hadn’t destroyed his drawing, but saved his name and upgraded it. It radically changed his attitude to me and to the whole situation.

We went from aggression and threats of physical violence to offers of friendship and benevolence. In the end, everything was good - I made the work, and the author of the original drawing expressed his respect and gratitude to me after seeing the final result. It was an interesting experience – I’ve never before had such long discussions with the project team to find the best solution in a difficult situation like this, as well as to conduct such unpredictable and intense negotiations with the conflicting side. Usually I either ignore such problems, or solve them in an aggressive manner, going into open conflict. I am glad that in this case we have gone the way of peace. I can say with confidence that this experience of peaceful resolution of the conflict and finding a compromise will affect my future projects.

Anything else you want to share?

I just would like to say thanks to Shamsher and Maya at ZERO1, Gray Area, and CounterPulse for all the hospitality and friendliness with which you met me in San Francisco. I am very glad that you were my hosts and I hope, no, I’m sure that we will do a few great art-projects in the near future together.

I awoke my first morning to the sound of bells ringing and birds singing. Somehow, my driver had found my little apartment the night before, though this part of Kathmandu, Old Patan, is so ancient that it has no street signs, no street names, and there are no numbers for houses. Places here are referenced by family names or the nearest temples. Streets were developed as footpaths, and only a few are wide enough for a single car to pass through. Dhumbahal House is where I lived, named after the nearest Hindu temple, though there is a Buddhist Stupa outside my kitchen balcony and a Hindu shrine below my living room. They are visited continuously, both day and night. 

Buddhist stupa from Jennifer's balcony. Photo by Jennifer Berry.

By day three I’d recovered my lost luggage, met with the Embassy, and walked the mile through the old city to Nepal Communitere: an innovation hub, entrepreneurship incubator, and makerspace that supports a progressive vision for Kathmandu and greater Nepal. The team at NC is a vibrant community of Nepali people, many of whom have spent time in the U.S. or Britain, and I felt at home almost immediately with the delicious snacks and lively conversations. 

For my residency, I taught a digital fabrication workshop to 16 people, aged 18 to 34, on the topic of women’s empowerment. All of the participants had laptops, some were practicing artists and others were from leadership roles in their work and community, and very few had digital design experience.

Participants for the AAI exchange program post challenges that women in Nepal face in various aspects of life. Photo by Jennifer Berry.

l led each day of the workshop in roundtable discussions with the question: “What does empowerment mean to you?” Some stories were difficult, others inspiring, and I deliberately (and transparently) fostered a safe and inclusive space so the participants and I could co-create a supportive community together. Though everyone had different perspectives, the consensus was that women want more choice when it comes to their bodies, access to education and employment, and who they form intimate relationships with and why. Each day ended with an introduction to 2D and 3D design software and tools to fabricate the components to make art. 

The team who worked on women's empowerment for Career had many compelling ideas and much passion for their topic. Photo by Jennifer Berry.

Four teams emerged around themes within women’s empowerment: home, career, culture, and personal. When it was time for teams to start planning their projects, my workshop assistant and I tasked teams with describing how a visitor would explain their project to a friend, and to create the work starting with that description. Then we set to enhancing the artistic skills that participants brought with them by adding skills in digital design and fabrication. 

Jennifer and the AAI participants visit a local digital fabrication vendor in Old Patan. Photo by Storytellers Productions.

In the photo above, the participants and I are visiting a digital foundry to see CNC machines, laser cutters, and vinyl sign making machines. 

We had ten days to develop prototypes that would invite the public to add to the conversation around what it means to be empowered for women in Nepal. 

You-Yoni team installing the entrance to their installation for the Open House. Photo by  Jennifer Berry.

There was such exuberant energy from participants that came from the project development! All around me, women were speaking their minds, supporting one another, and the feeling was contagious as others in entrepreneurship and artistic communities starting dropping in to see the work and telling others. 

Visitors to the inclusive chiya pasal tea hall were invited to play a board game based on women's experiences during their career. Photo by Jennifer Berry.
Photo by Jyoti Shrestha.

What surprised me most was that these projects were able to extend the safe and inclusive community we’d created so that visitors were now participating in the conversation we’d started during the workshop. Each team developed a project that was participatory in nature. Spectators became participants when the projects were unveiled at the Open House, and it seemed like all of Kathmandu was buzzing with the conversation about women’s empowerment. 

Team Desire developed a project that created community around more choice in the home. Photo by Yajaswi Rai.

ZERO1 Awarded California Arts Council “Youth Arts Action” Grant

Last month wrapped up the ZERO1 American Arts Incubator in Gwangju, South Korea in partnership with the Gwangju Cultural Foundation. Gwangju is widely known as the site of the Gwangju Uprising (or May 18 Democratic Uprising), when the public responded to martial law instituted by the government, the closing of schools, and the banning of political activities with a large-scale civil uprising. The uprising began at Chonnam University with students protesting, and quickly spread with tens of thousands of protesters, hundreds of deaths, and thousands of injuries. This uprising paved the way for the democratization of South Korea in the late 1980s, and the event is a major part of South Korea’s history and is still extremely present for many in the country. Working in this very politically and socially engaged city, it was interesting to learn about the current issues of social inclusion that the participants were experiencing, that ranged from issues like processing trauma in the body to dealing with the complex relationship between younger and older members of society.

 People with umbrellas stand in front of brick wall with plants in foreground and city skyline behind them
Touring the Chinese Holy Tree (Horang Gasinaumu) Guest House. Photo by Inhwa Yeom.

We began with a one week workshop, where we got to know one another, talk through the themes, and learn some new skills. My approach to the workshop was to use the concept of “home” as an entry point to the issue of social inclusion. “Home” is an idea we can all relate to—we have all felt at home at some point, whether it is a physical place, a group of people, or a mode of being, But what makes someone feel “at home” and what does it mean to belong in a space, community, or city? What might a future home look like, if we imagine one that is more inclusive?

Artist Joo Hong visited to talk about her social performances and interventions in Gwangju, around Korea, and in New York Times Square.

Group of people sit and listen to artist presentation
Guest lecture by artist Joo Hong. Photo by Jinsil Choi.

We tried to learn through action and our bodies. Participants brought objects that captured their feeling of home and improvised with them. Through these activities, we got used to the idea of creating space together, negotiating, and imagining. We were building a framework for ourselves.

People move wood and fabric screens around a large room
Creating a smarter home framework. Photo by Jinsil Choi.

We also visited Yangnim-Dong and thought about the meaning of doing this work in Gwangju today. We toured the beautiful Chinese Holy Tree (Horang Gasinaumu) Guest House and learned about the missionaries and religious and spiritual roots of the city that put a priority on caring for family, city, and justice. This felt very relevant to our themes of home and social inclusion.

People with umbrellas walk through traditional Korean buildings
Touring Yangnim-Dong. Photo by Inhwa Yeom.
Man stands in kitchen surrounded by glass walls and greenery
Touring the Chinese Holy Tree (Horang Gasinaumu) Guest House. Photo by Inhwa Yeom.

We also spent time learning technical skills to make the projects. We learned coding to create interactive drawings using p5.js. We used machine learning to train simple systems to recognize things like facial expressions, body positions, or basic objects. Then we thought about how to create interactive installations combining elements of camera input, projected content, and audience interaction.

Man looks at computer screen creating a circle with code
Learning p5.js. Photo by Jinsil Choi.
Screenshot of p5.js website in Korean language
p5.js in Korean! Photo by Lauren McCarthy.

After that busy week, we formed four teams and began developing team projects that would make up one bigger installation. The “Smarter Home” project reimagines smart homes of the future, trying to bring technology into personal space on our own terms. Each team selected an issue within the broader scope of social inclusion to address through a conversation room they created within the larger structure. They then developed one mode of interaction to use as the mechanic for their piece. This meant incorporating machine learning, audio processing, and computer vision techniques to track and respond to the presence of participants.

Room filled with screens, equipment, projections, and people
Negotiating space for our smarter home. Photo by Lauren McCarthy.

Nawon Paek, Taeguen Lim, Gaeyang Park, and Inhwa Yeom’s project III-iteracy raised awareness about illiteracy and the difficulty some people face in navigating the city. Creating an installation that reacted to eye blinks, they used coding techniques and visual effects as metaphors for understanding different experiences of seeing and reading.

Two screens display projections of scrambled text, lit from behind by reflective metal and light
Two screens display projections of scrambled text, lit from behind by reflective metal and light
III-iteracy by Nawon Paek, Taeguen Lim, Gaeyang Park, Inhwa Yeom. Top: First version at Gwangju Cultural Foundation. Bottom: Second version at ISEA exhibition at Asia Culture Center. Photos by Inhwa Yeom.

Do Won Kim, Jung Suk Noh, Yun Jeong Kim, Ho Jong Jeong, and So Jeong Yun’s project took on imagined roles of family members to create their project I LOVE YOUt. Expanding on the traditional Korean pastime yutnori, they envisioned it as a means to communicate with family members and understand the history and spirit of Gwangju. It used machine learning to introduce a new game format that combines the past and the future by digitally linking analog games, and presenting the audience with image or text questions to share experiences from different moments in time. The experience drew on a shared sense of sorrow to form a community of hope.

Group gathers around yutnori gameboard lit by LED frame
I LOVE YOUt by Do Won Kim, Jung Suk Noh, Yun Jeong Kim, Ho Jong Jeong, and So Jeong Yun. Top: First version at Gwangju Cultural Foundation. Bottom: Second version at ISEA exhibition at Asia Culture Center. Photos by Jongwon O and Inhwa Yeom.

Changwan Moon, Hyewon Kim, and JeongNang Choi’s project Feel-Fill investigated the way emotional pain is experienced in the body. After surveying local community members about their embodied pain, they created an interactive visualization that reacted to voice. When someone screamed in their room, a large portrait of the body would illuminate with mapped projections at the pain points.

Two participants present in front of a projection of their work featuring bodies, colors, and sketches
Feel-Fill by Changwan Moon, Hyewon Kim, and JeongNang Choi. Top: First version at Gwangju Cultural Foundation. Bottom: Second version at ISEA exhibition at Asia Culture Center. Photos by Jongwon O and Inhwa Yeom.

Kitae Park, Minju Do, and Yonghyun Lim’s project How to Understand Your Daughter took on the smaller society known as the “family.” As they put it, “Home is a place where two different social roles collide: between what parents want their children to act like (as a member of the family) and what the children want to act and live like (as a member of a society).” In the middle of the installation is a diary by Minju, one of the team members, onto which a pre-recorded video of her day and her artworks are projected. The audience was invited to react to Minju’s day, experiencing it from her mother’s viewpoint, and respond using their bodies to two options: 1) I am worried about her future, 2) I am not worried about her future. The installation detected the bodily responses and visualized the broader community’s outlook on Minju’s future.

Projection of woman posing with arms in heart shape over her head
How to Understand Your Daughter by Kitae Park, Minju Do, Yonghyun Lim. Top: First version at Gwangju Cultural Foundation. Bottom: Second version at ISEA exhibition at Asia Culture Center. Photos by Jongwon O and Inhwa Yeom.

Together, the four works came together into one larger installation that offered our own “Smarter Home / 더 똑똑한 집.” A panel review and open house involving the public wrapped up everything up.

Group of people look at projection as two people present
American Arts Incubator panel review night! Photo by Jongwon O.

Earlier this month, we had the opportunity to stage a new iteration of this work as part of the International Symposium on Electronic Art (ISEA) exhibition that will be held at the Asia Culture Center. The installation was developed significantly to adapt to a new site, audience, and ongoing goals of the participants.

Wood framed screens and panels divide open space into interactive projection areas.
Wood framed screens and panels divide open space into interactive projection areas.
Installation at ISEA exhibition at Asia Culture Center. Photos by Inhwa Yeom.

This exchange taught me a lot about communication, which I think is at the core of feeling like you are home. As we navigated language differences, I found my definition of “understanding” expanding. I realized that though we may have different interpretations of what was being said, we could still find places to connect and build together. In some ways, it offered a wider, more forgiving and creative way of collaborating. Each of us were able to bring our individual realities into a loose framework that created something bigger.

I must say many thanks to Inhwa Yeom, our amazing production assistant, interpreter, and team member, the whole team at Gwangju Cultural Foundation, including Yong Soon, JinKyung Jeong, and Jinsil Choi, Shamsher Virk and Maya Holm who provided so much support from afar at ZERO1, the US Department of State for supporting this work, and all the participants who were so creative, committed, and generous with their energy.

Durban has one of the most vibrant street art scenes in South Africa, and at the center of it is KZNSA Gallery located in Glenwood. The district has an eclectic mix of cultures and economic diversity, as well as dynamic youth culture. The gallery has become the artistic hub for the community with an ethos of “transformation, incubation, and activation.”

Street artist Iain EWOK Robinson at KZNSA Gallery. Photo by Niamh Walsh-Vorster.

On the Culture Trip website, Angela Shaw, the curator of the gallery, guides us through some of the emerging South African street artists in the city. What is clear from the article is that KZNSA’s ethos is all over the city. The artists reflect the community in their murals, and in turn the community supports public art. KZNSA Gallery dedicates their outdoor wall space to street artists, and new work is created on a regular basis. I am excited to experiment with their “activation” ethos and play around with augmented reality and street art, and work with local artists to make their murals come to life.

Priya on a Tiger mural in Mumbai. Photo by Tushar Prakash.

 When I was creating the comic book series, “Priya’s Shakti” featuring India’s first female superhero who is a rape survivor, I was trying to figure out how to make the work popular and accessible. I discovered the power of public art through the work of Diego Rivera. He created massive murals in public spaces that showed regular people enduring and transforming history. His work was both a powerful artistic and political statement. Using his philosophy, I decided to take the iconic image of “Priya on a Tiger” and put it in public spaces in India. I think those murals have been seen by over 3 million people.

 Throughout Durban, there are dozens of murals consciously (or subconsciously) influenced by Diego Rivera. The artists are painting regular people from their community on enormous walls or bridge columns, thus transforming the mundane into something beautiful and sublime.

 

Priya on a Tiger mural in Mumbai. Photo by Tushar Prakash.

Later, I discovered how to activate these murals and make them come to life through augmented reality. This emerging technology has the potential to change how we perceive and engage with the real world through a digital layer. Artists can create a monologue or physical version of their art and then re-imagine it through a digital transparency over the original without altering it. AR is a new toolkit for artists and for groups of artists to collaborate on new ideas. Even though the painting or mural remains consistent -- the digital layer can change instantly and react to the viewer’s perception of it. I am looking forward to exploring Durban’s street art scene with local artists and instill a spirit of adventure and play into the artwork.

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This city-wide pilot project, produced by Lava Mae and ZERO1 and created by contemporary artist John Craig Freeman and Sound Made Public, seeks to build a bridge of shared humanity between neighbors – housed and unhoused.

As San Francisco finds itself embodying both the best of human capacity and the worst, our unrelenting crisis around housing insecurity and the houseless has come to define us as sharply as our innovation and entrepreneurship.

WE ARE ALL NEIGHBORS

Most of us know little about our unhoused neighbors – those we see and the many more who are invisible – their stories, or what’s required to navigate these challenging circumstances.

Most of us don’t realize that the majority of our houseless neighbors are unhoused due to circumstances beyond their control, such as eviction, and that homelessness is only a temporary experience for most.

coming home invites viewers to immerse themselves in a choice of eight life-size virtual scenes from across San Francisco neighborhoods, meet a full range of their houseless neighbors, and hear their stories – from life on the street to holding a job, as a student or an elder, and from the point of view of those who have successfully moved beyond what is, foremost, a temporary situation.

The 8 augmented reality scenes of coming home can be experienced through the Layar app at different locations throughout San Francisco. The piece is also available on Apple devices no matter the user’s location. The scenes are available as individual apps through the Apple App store by searching “coming home lava mae.”

About Lava Mae

Lava Mae is a San Francisco-based nonprofit innovating to transform lives in the world of homelessness and disrupt the way communities see and serve our unhoused neighbors around the globe. For more information, visit lavamaex.org.

About ZERO1

ZERO1: the art and technology network leverages technology, art, and science to create social change. Over the past five years, ZERO1 has utilized community-driven digital and new media art projects to instigate dialogue, build communities, bolster local economies, and further social innovation. Learn more at zero1.org.

I am so proud, again, of all the participants as individuals and as teams. There are a few other notable teams that were crucial in realizing these project work: ZERO1, L’Uzine, and the American Consulate in Casablanca.

I want to thank them for their help in supporting the program from start to finish and for inspiring the project that I am currently wrapping up as part of my exchange. This was a team effort.

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In particular, the energy and excitement of L'Uzine have been my muses for this project.

The same line repeats in every iteration of the project proposal leading up to my departure to Morocco, “My personal project will be an architectural scaffolding for the participant projects…”  Familiar neither with the organization nor with the participants, I imagined I would build a structure or design a space that could host each of the participant project prototypes.

But over the course of the workshops and as the participant projects developed, I realized that this scaffolding already existed; every day, the flurry of events and excitement, the rhythms of dance and meditative motions of textile design, the focus of the camera lens, the reverberations and translations of music, the flittering of fabrics, the echoes of philosophical conversations, and the fun that moved across, up and down, and around the building of L’Uzine.

Raucous laughter and decisive actions emanate from the 1.5th-floor administrative offices. Delicious smells waft up the stairs from the kitchen where Fantom and Fatima prepare a meal for the staff and visitors to eat together, pausing between energetic spurts of technical management, deconstruction, shopping, posting, meetings, and, of course, answering seemingly incessant questions from guest program coordinators, like me.

Zineb Haddaji’s responsive, positive, and witty perspective kept the program and the projects moving within and beyond office hours. Maria Daif’s infectious enthusiasm gave context to the projects. The care with which Nadir Houboub considered each shot, sequence, and composition and the poetry of each image by Ahlam Maroon represented our program so eloquently. Hamza Lyoubi's even and careful timing and articulation, and Abdessamad Bourhim’s intense and speedy technical execution bolstered our work. The workshops and exhibits also would not have been the same without Dounia Jawhar's calming presence, Sabrine Hakim's insightful questions, Abdessamad Noudirate's energy and resourcefulness, and Kristi Jones’s indispensable insight and support. And, last but not least, Fouad was always ready to open a door.

Some of the amazing L'Uzine staff helping with the exhibition. Zineb Haddaji, Abdessamad Nouidrate and Ahlam Maroon, Dounia Jawhar, Nadir Houboub, and Maria Daif. Photos and stills from videos by Nadir Houboub; photo of Nadir by Abdemassad Nouidrate.

The concept for my project came from the recognition that L’Uzine — as a building and organization — is a scaffolding that can and does support not only prototypes but ongoing work on the critical questions and concerns expressed and explored by the participant projects. L’Uzine’s heart and muscle are already doing the inspiring work of community building, recognition, and representation. Its body is filled with diverse projects and programs that display, disclose, and question.

L’Uzine’s building is not only a center of culture, it is also a cultural puzzle. It is a place where mega-cultures, mass-cultures, and sub-cultures connect, coincide, collide, and fuse together. Its spaces are allocated to music, dance, theater, performance, photography, painting, and design, and its circulation spaces host encounters among artists. The cultural puzzle re-imagines the way the building is subdivided — grouping spaces to create variegated cultural portraits through a diversity of disciplines and sensory stimuli.

L'Uzine as A Cultural Puzzle by Dasha Ortenberg.

This is a curatorial concept:

Three puzzle pieces represent the heart and muscle — L'Uzine's staff — the Heart, the Arm, and the Spine.

Five puzzle pieces represent cultural exhibitions, inspired by the Rhetorical City participant projects: each one uses a collection of sensory spaces to immerse visitors in a sub-culture — each organ perceiving, processing, and interpreting different aspects of the exhibit.

3D-printed L'Uzine puzzle pieces by Dasha Ortenberg.

Meanwhile, the Cultural Canvas & Composites concepts are a fusion of the American Arts Incubator model and some of the incredible work that is already underway at L’Uzine.

AAI bolsters the growth of artists through the development of art projects addressing questions of community, technology, and entrepreneurship. Shamsher Virk and Maya Holm provided an incredible foundation, and go above and beyond in coordination to support this process. And the Department of State and American Consulate were so generous in their support of the program and participation in its exhibition event — especially Stephanie Jensby, Salma Benbouia, and the Consul General, Jennifer Rasamimanana.

Artists explore and grow at L’Uzine — some participate in workshops and projects for fun, some become employees of the organization, and some become recognized city-wide, nationally, and internationally for their craft.

The Cultural Canvas & Composites concepts underscore the role that L’Uzine already plays as an incubator by providing concepts for small and large, singular and serial, physical and digital interventions.

L'Uzine Casa Earth Proposal by Dasha Ortenberg.

I want to return for a moment to the basis of this project — asking questions about empowerment through mapping and data collection and representation. Among the great concerns with power, data, and mapping are disempowerment, misrepresentation, and obfuscation, respectively. However, perhaps if we understand the systems by which these are constructed, we can become not only critics of but also activists within them, transforming the criticality that sometimes seems external to societal structures into something that is intrinsic and inherent to societal growth and development.

Perhaps social entrepreneurship is an exquisite product of opportunities for open self-expression and public conversations about convictions. And, finally, perhaps this constructive-criticism-turned-social-entrepreneurship is a form of love that can ultimately make a positive impact on our families, friends, neighbors, and communities.

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I can't wait to see what forms the AAI participant projects take as they develop in the future and to see what configurations L'Uzine might take as it continues to do its incredible work 

(L) Wall-sized aerial of Casablanca for L'Uzine, (R) Dounia Jawhar, Ahlam Maroon, and Zineb Haddaji make a portrait using a vinyl cutter. Photos by Dasha Ortenberg.
Composite photograph of L'Uzine by Dasha Ortenberg.

It’s been an incredible month at IZOLYATSIA, and I can’t believe how far we’ve come! March 29th was the opening reception for Emergent Tributaries at IZONE, showcasing collaborative works from the community groups as well as myself. The name of the exhibition is in reference to the Dnipro River, which has historically played a central role in shaping the landscape and cities alongside it in Ukraine: as an ancient trade route for goods and supplies, a place for cultural exchange and gatherings, and a provider of energy through hydroelectricity.

I chose the Dnipro River as an entry point into this exhibition — as a meeting place of cultural exchange for a visiting artist and curator from America working at IZOLYATSIA, which is right on the riverbank. I also chose it metaphorically for its ecological network, which connects Ukraine through its many tributaries, as this exhibition has done the same for artists gathering from different parts of the country.

Now linked with digital technologies in a similarly networked fashion, Emergent Tributaries reimagines the present and future of Ukraine through the eyes of these artists and their collaborative new media works. Along the Dnipro riverbanks as well as in other physical and digital spaces, they have refigured cultural identity, personal identity, and our relationship to ecological systems, technologies, our bodies, and the spaces our bodies inhabit through speculative design and design fiction.

Exhibition vistors viewing The Waters Come Into my Soul. Photo by Iuļiia Rubļevska.

There were four main collaborative projects in the exhibition:

The Waters Come Into My Soul examines water pollution in Ukraine, particularly along the Dnipro River. The industrial run-off and overabundance of phosphorus, nitrogen, and phosphates causes active reproduction of cyanobacteria that spurs the "Dnipro blossoming" phenomenon, which negatively affects the flora and fauna of the river as well as the physical and psychological state of the people living nearby. The group investigated this phenomenon through digital textile prints, algorithmic video, projection, 3D prints, microscopy video, and sound.

The Waters group: Julia Beliaeva, Elena Klochko, Bogdan Moroz, Anna Prokopets (Umka Estebanovna), Iryna Proskurina, Alla Sorochan, Olga Tereshchenko, Oksana Chepelyk

Video projection and 3D prints in The Waters Come Into My Soul. Photo by Iuļiia Rubļevska.

Full installation of The Waters Come Into My Soul. Photo by Iuļiia Rubļevska.

Island Ї is a speculative floating artificial island on the Dnipro River. It is an open university and a scientific laboratory — a platform for artistic and scientific projects. Island Ї is a rhizome of diverse ideas, styles, and decisions that represent the diversity of Ukrainian identity. It combines harmoniously what seems like an insoluble contradiction: an academy of sciences, an erotic education center, self-regulating sails, and architecture with biomimetic forms achieved through futuristic technology of adaptive and regenerative growth.

Island Ї moves freely along all the rivers of Ukraine, to all the cities and remote towns and villages, influencing people and changing society through forms of nonlinear and horizontal interaction.

Mincult group: Yurii Efranov, Elena Klochko, Yaroslav Kostenko, Anastasiia Loyko, Mykhailo Rozanov Kateryna Shyman, Krolikowski Art

Island Ї at opening exhibition. Photo by Iuļiia Rubļevska.

Island Ї full installation. Photo by Iuļiia Rubļevska.

Session Room involves ASMR and Ukrainian identity, focusing on the lack of boundaries between public and private space. This project features a zoned, partially enclosed space in which the viewer can feel solitude and simultaneously experiment with various tactile and auditory elements including 3D video portraits of the artists and their voices.

MEDITATOR group: Alina Borysova, Anna Kakhiani, Anna Korniets, Irina Kostyshyna, Alyona Mamay, Oleksandr Manukyans, Hanna Shumskam, Oleksiy Yaloveha

Tiare Ribeaux with Session Room members in their installation. Photo by Iuļiia Rubļevska.

Exhibition visitor viewing Session Room. Photo by Iuļiia Rubļevska.

Spidertopia explores a theoretical renaissance of Ukrainian identity free from territorial invasions. Using the language of traditional “pavuk" or "spiders,” module-like elements of Ukrainian home decor which pre-dates Christianity, the project applies it to a utopian world. But within that high-tech world, we notice something strange… Spidertopia highlights a peculiar Ukrainian attitude on the verge of comedy, tragedy, and irony that has seemed to persist. It is an exercise in self-observation: times are changing, but do we change with them?

SPIDERTOPIA group: Ivanka Borodina, Olha Vashchevska, Serhii Nizhynskyi, Maria Proshkowska, Bogdan Seredyak, Olga Synyakevych

Exhibition visitors viewing Spidertopia. Photo by Iuļiia Rubļevska.

Spidertopia. Photo courtesy of IZOLYATSIA.

For my personal project, I focused on the “Dnipro Blossoming” phenomenon. I wanted to explore material transformation through the lens of the Dnipro, and created intimate portraits of the river in acrylic, transferring its boundaries to become a central focus to address this topic, layering and juxtaposing man-made tributaries with ancient and natural flows.

Using a water battery with polluted water from the Dnipro and speculative algal bioreactors, I consider converting cyanobacteria and polluted water in the Dnipro into energy; in this case, for illumination. A reframing of the river helps us to reconsider our impact on it and future methods of harmonious collaboration with it, other ecologies, and non-human species.

Tiare Ribeaux discussing her project at the opening exhibition. Photo by Iuļiia Rubļevska.

Full Installation of Tiare Ribeaux's project. Photo courtesy of IZOLYATSIA.

Another project I did in collaboration with participants and my partner Donald Hanson was ARUA.xyz, an augmented map containing digital sculptural works by multiple Ukrainian artists featured in this exhibition. It is an online browser-based project, and also an intervention of space, a rewriting of present geographies, a disruption of physical and digital borders, and an intentional positioning of new cultural digital monuments throughout Ukraine.

For this exhibition, these virtual sculptures can be seen in the gallery, but they can also been seen at different mapped locations via smart devices. My hope is that ARUA.xyz will live beyond this exhibition to include additional works by other artists from Ukraine.

AAI participants viewing ARUA.xyz. Photo by Iuļiia Rubļevska.

Over 200 people attended the opening exhibition and the showcase lasted two weeks. Following the opening, we had a panel review where all the groups presented their work and their future plans to evolve their projects over time. Arts and culture professionals from Kyiv gave critical feedback on all of the works and helped teams formulate actionable plans for their development and expansion into other communities.

Crowd at the opening exhibition for Emergent Tributaries. Photo by Iuļiia Rubļevska.

It's been an intense and transformative month — I had no idea what we would make together when I arrived in Kyiv, but I couldn't have imagined a more tremendous outcome. I am so proud of all of the beautifully crafted and meaningful works made by everyone in this program, and feel blessed to have met so many wonderful people during this time, and to have made so many new friends.

I am immensely greatful for the experience I had in Ukraine with IZOLYATSIA and with all of the talented artists I got to work alongside. I learned so much, and feel my perspectives on artmaking, teaching, and collaboration have really shifted during this time. I truly hope for more international opportunities to teach and work with communities as it really fosters true cultural exchange and dialogue.

I plan to continue my work with the Dnipro River, which has now grown into a collaboration with three of the AAI participants, and my plan is to return to Ukraine in July to develop this project further. I am sure all of these projects and connections incubated through AAI will continue to grow in the months to come, and three of the projects already have potential future showcases and exhibitions on the horizon later this year.

Tiare Ribeaux's ongoing collaborative project with Krolikowski Art about the Dnipro River. Photo by Alexander Krolikowski.

American Arts Incubator is an initiative of the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and is administered by ZERO1. The incubator in Ukraine is produced in collaboration with the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv and IZOLYATSIA. Platform for Cultural Initiatives. 

Arriving in Ecuador during the time of corn harvest, I was deeply impressed by the magnificent cornfields. I envision that was what parts of Manaháhtaan (precolonial Manhattan) used to look like. I also was delighted to learn that the companion-planting agricultural practice of the Three Sisters Garden (interplanting squash, corn and beans together to support each other) was also prevalent in Ecuador; another proof of shared knowledge across ancient Americas.

Endless corn fields in Peguche, Imbabura, Ecuador. Photo by Beatrice Glow.

I also ate a lot of corn during the months of March and April. Between boiled, grilled, tostada, mote, and quimbolito, the best was my first humita prepared by Maria Edubijes Mendez de Jesús, aka the beloved Doña Mary. Mary, always beaming with the warmest smile, is an Afro-Ecuadorian grandmother who often works as the chef at Casa de Artes Yarina, my American Arts Incubator host partner organization. While I directed American Arts Incubator — Ecuador, I noticed that the feminine labor of Doña Mary, the woman who took care of our wellbeing, was often invisibilized. Her warmth, similar to that of Mother Earth, is often taken for granted.

The pambamesa prepared by Doña Mary during the panel review of American Arts Incubator — Ecuador's Open House on April 6, 2018. Photo (left) by Ana Cachimuel and photo (right) by Beatrice Glow.

In an interview, Mary expressed: “If I were to be an element of nature, I would be a medicinal plant." As I got to know her, Mary shared that she had endured a traumatic childhood and had singlehandedly raised three children. I also learned that she is a medicinal plant healer, political activist, community organizer, culture bearer of bomba music and dance, and is now becoming an authority of regional gastronomy.

For me, Mary represented not only the strength of pachamama (Mother Earth), but also the core lessons of resilience and survivorship that initially drew me to working within the context of Casa de Artes Yarina and Museo Viviente Otavalango’s past as the Antigua Fábrica San Pedro, a site of indigenous exploitation between the 1850s through 1970s.

Prototyping with medicinal plant cornsilk. Photos by Beatrice Glow.

In local marketplaces, I noticed that cornsilk, a potent herb to heal urinary tract and kidney infections, was tossed as trash. Thus, my counterpart Ana Cachimuel and Mary helped me procure cornsilk from market vendors and I braided them to frame a drawing I made of Mary adorned in medicinal plants she uses to heal people. The drawing was then activated with a video interview paired as an augmented reality feature.

Young friends from Colectivo Umama came to present the Mama Cuchara project during the panel review. Here they are posing with "Doña Mary" 2018, Beatrice Glow´s personal project. Photo by Ana Cachimuel.

In addition to weaving cornsilk to tell this story of resilience, as part of the 28-day incubator challenge, I introduced how to create augmented reality (AR) based experiences to amplify intergenerational and intercultural dialogues to address social inclusion. As we used digital art to reveal historical patterns of exploitation and intercultural strife, I was weary of replicating unbalanced power dynamics within our incubator. My participants were diverse in age and socio-economic status as well as cultural, professional, and racial backgrounds. We had heated conversations on racial and gender equity. We searched for alternative terms to social inclusion and questioned concepts such as, "who has the power to include/exclude?"

Don Rene Zambrano, president of the Cooperative of Museo Viviente Otavalango, and his brother Don Clemente Zambrano photographed with a mural that was developed from an oral history session with Yuyay in Casa Cruz of Museo Viviente Otavalango. Photo by L. Merinio Maldonado.

This process led to the formation of three community projects that each received small seed-grants to build project prototypes: Yuyay applies augmented reality to site-specific community murals, Mama Cuchara is an AR Spanish and Kichwa language book on medicinal plants, and Warmi Tukushka stages immersive theater with rural communities for a social tourism project in order to generate income for Indigenous communities.

Sharing the AR medicinal plant book with Kichwa languange sound elements to our Open House visitors. Photo by L. Merinio Maldonado.

There were limits on how much I, as an artist, facilitator, admin, PR and community manager, teacher, exhibition designer, and translator could contribute to a community. Despite running the program with minimal infrastructural support — internet was often nonexistent, rain seeped into our tech workshop spaces, and I nearly fainted due to sleep deprivation compounded by altitude sickness — what we had was strong community spirit and ingenious resourcefulness thanks to Ana Cachimuel, her family, as well as the participants. I also acknowledge the behind-the-scenes support of Maya Holm and Shamsher Virk of ZERO1. Each team put forth hardwork and met my tough love with grace.

American Arts Incubator — Ecuador, 2018. Videography by L. Merinio Maldonado; video editing by Editor Satélite.

As folks looked to me for leadership, I often thought of my cohort of AAI "artstronauts" who are all exploring how to adapt the art and tech incubator to a demanding foreign context. There is no formula as each incubator is different, and that is the beauty of the AAI program. I admit that I had moments of disillusionment as I became acquainted with local community politics. Randi randi (the kichwa expression for reciprocity, literally meaning give and take) was constantly preached to me as a core cultural value, yet it was not always practiced and at certain moments I was hollowed witnessing crude self-interest and nontransparent resource distribution. Yet, witnessing Mary's resilience, I knew that I had to exert myself and call out problematic circumstances. #CulturalDiplomacy.

Installation view of AAI — Ecuador's Open House. Photo by L. Merinio Maldonado.

Installation view of Umama's Mama Cuchara project where they temporarily created a medicinal plant garden for AAI — Ecuador's Open House. Photo by L. Merinio Maldonado.

The day of the panel review was truly a highlight! The community projects were beautifully installed into a cohesive exhibition in Casa Cruz of Museo Viviente Otavalango. Each group passionately delivered their pitches to the judges and the public consisted of many community members, elders, students, and even the executive director of the Fábrica Imbabura, Edgar Flores.

Rich exchanges and insightful critiques took place during the public presentations, and each community project received additional support in the forms of mentorship, invitations to local incubators, and possible funding opportunities. Several participants traveled to Arte Actual Flasco, a social science and humanities cultural center in Quito, to share our process with a wider audience and connect rural and urban dialogues. I was full of admiration for each team sharing their aspirations.

The community projects received constructive feedback from experts in education, culture and entrepreneurship including Magister Alicia Dolores Mina Minda from the Ministry of Education, Andrea Viteri from the US Embassy, Silvia Echeverría from Manhattan Neighborhood Network, Ricardo Haro Tinajero from the University of Otavalo, Alexis Haro from Ciudad Yachay, and Julio César Morán de la Torre from the Ministerio del Ambiente. Photo by L. Merinio Maldonado.

Incubator participants presenting their work to panelists. Photo by Beatrice Glow.

The panel review day for AAI — Ecuador's Open House held at Casa Cruz, Museo Viviente Otavalango. Photo by L. Merinio Maldonado.

I’ve been back in the U.S. for less than a week and am trying to prolong that enigmatic transition period between settling back into my New York City routine, digesting the lessons from my intensive incubator challenge, and brainstorming next steps for my incubator participants to really thrive for the long term.

I leave inspired that many people in rural Ecuador, despite living in poverty, are still on their ancestral land and can live off the produce yielded from their home gardens. Their food sovereignty gives me hope that a regenerative and cooperative economy is viable. I believe that my incubator participants still have the possibility to carve out a new economy centered on sustainable land-based practices with healthy communities who will continue to cultivate the resistant ancestral technology called corn, generation after generation.

Visiting the Ministry of Environmental Health to learn more about sustainable agro-products and local community-based entrepreneurial initiatives. Photo by L. Merinio Maldonado

The participants have worked so incredibly hard to create insightful and beautiful projects.

Clay animals on map from event by the Littorale group. Still from video by Amine Krafi, Loubna El Ghallab, and Taha Azale.

With impressive tenacity and efficiency in a short amount of time, participants have developed profound bodies of research into the critical issues that concern them — surveying their neighbors, leading workshops with children, interviewing students on a university campus, and talking to other artists about collaborative projects. In the process, we are also developing new friendships and relationships across art, technology, and culture.

The Zero4 group at work (L, Youssef Zaoui, R, Yasser Benhar). Photos by Nadir Houboub.

They planned and produced, explored and innovated, played and discovered. The projects are not yet complete. I hope that they will never be complete — they are so many potential paths to pursue! Some aspects of the projects will be furthered over the coming months, some tangents may be followed through the end of this year, others....we have yet to see!

Project experiments by Hybrid Gastronomies group. Hicham Choukri and Abdelilah Azergui. Photos by Dasha Ortenberg.

Some of these project futures were imagined during the course of the panel review, which was inspiring and exciting! We were honored by the presence of Jennifer Rasamimanana, the Consul General of the United States in Casablanca; Maria Daif, Director of L'Uzine; Kenza Amrouk, independent curator; Mohammed Fariji, L'Atelier de l'Observatoir; and Kristi Jones, consultant and curator. Each member of the panel represented different aspects of the program goals and I am so proud that their observations included positive and constructive comments on the structures of the presentations, the level of craft, and insight into societal questions of the projects.

The panel (L) and the presenters (R). Photos by Nadir Houboub.

After completing and presenting their initial research and another ideation session, participants formed project groups — some related to the previous research, some new.

The groups are collecting, creating, designing, iterating, revamping, and installing their projects with excitement and enthusiasm. I am continuously impressed with how brave they are in choosing strategies for engaging people in public spaces, representing their ideas, speaking candidly about their concerns, and embarking on learning new technologies in the process!

Our space at L'Uzine has become an epicenter of exploration as each group returns and shares new cultural and technological discoveries.

Project notes and sketches by Loubna El Ghallab, Abdelilah Azergui, and Youssef Zaoui. Photo by (L) Dasha Ortenberg and (C,R) Nadir Houboub.

After a survey introduction to new media techniques, individual participants have chosen different technologies to focus on as they develop group projects. With the help of FabLab Casablanca, they are using media such as laser cutting and Arduino sensor kits to build dynamic exhibits and online maps to include complex and thorough sets of information.

Le Littoral | Amine, Loubna, Taha

Revealing the institutional knowledge within a coastal bidonville through mapping the memory, knowledge, and skills of the community. Photos by (L) Dasha Ortenberg and (C,R) Nadir Houboub.
Hybrid Gastronomies | Abdelkarim, Sabrine, Abdelilah, Hicham

Addressing challenges of diversity and immigration by comparing ingredients in Moroccan and sub-Saharan cuisine and proposing a fusion dish. Photos by Dasha Ortenberg.

To Art or Not to Art | Jalila

Investigating challenges faced by performers in public spaces at the Place Nations Unis. Photos by (L) Dasha Ortenberg and (C,R) Jalila El Achaari.

ReZero4izer le Zero4 | Youssef and Yasser

Letting a neighborhood's creativity shine despite its negative reputation using mapping and a valise of samples. Photos by (L) Dasha Ortenberg and (R) Nadir Houboub.
Even as these projects are in progress, there is so much excitement and support here at L'Uzine to find and provide tools and help participants realize their work! The energy is palpable and the potential is boundless. I can't wait to see what comes of these concepts, which are so beautiful both in their aesthetics and in their social innovation!
Hard at work. Photo by Dasha Ortenberg.

I am so thrilled to work with this incredible cohort: a group of philosophers and artists with a wide range of artistic and technical talents with passions that include history and memory, environmental causes and science, as well as social justice and art. There is no way I could have ever predicted how amazing the participants in this program would be. I am blown away daily by their commitment, inquisitiveness, and nuanced approaches to the profound questions that move them. Through them, I am seeing Casablanca.

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The departure point of our studies is the idea that sensory and spatial mapping are interpretations and projections.

A space represented by a void is not necessarily empty.

A space replete with information is not necessarily accurate.

Information can be left out.

Information can be filled in.

Working definitions:

DATA: quantifiable information

MAP: data interpreted through space

EMPOWERMENT: knowing how generate to data to create maps that represent one’s own opinions, convictions, or knowledge.

Vast quantities of data are generated each second as we function in our digital environments. Patterns are found in this data and mapped according to preset priorities. In Rhetorical City, we look into what happens when we define the data we generate and choose the priorities by which data is analyzed.

Left: Abdelillah Azergui pixelates an image based on preference; Center: Abderrazzak Elamim reconstructs his portrait; Right: Jalila El Achaariweeds her portrait from the paper. L/C photos by Nadir Houboub; R photo by Dasha Ortenberg.

In conversation with our tools, we choose how to deconstruct and reconstruct information, including information and images of ourselves. Using bristol paper and vinyl cutting machines, participants created layered, three-dimensional portraits of themselves. In converting their pixel-based portraits into vectors, the participants chose the level of resolution of their portraits. In a more abstract version of the exercise, Abdelilah selected very large-scale pixels of an image based on parts he liked or didn't like rather than based on color or tone. The product is a mask for the image that reveals or conceals personal preference.

To put these tools and processes into context, we looked at a survey of digital fabrication technologies and visited FabLab Casablanca to see some of them in action!

FabLab Casablanca hosts Rhetorical City. Photo by Dasha Ortenberg.

We discussed the reciprocal cycles of interpretation between ourselves and our tools — be they hand or digital drawing, an X-Acto knife, a vinyl cutter, a laser cutter, or a CNC router.

As pattern-finders and interpreters, how do individuals perceive, translate, and analyze?  

The final stage of synesthetic exquisite corpse — texture by participants. Photo by Nadir Houboub.

To engage our bodies in the construction and relation of meaning, we started the program with a game of synesthetic exquisite corpse: by sharing sensory experiences collected throughout L'Uzine with one another, the participants created interpretive sequences, which then led to conversations about how we structure meaning and information through the creation and comparison of categories.

Youssef Zaoui and Abdellah Hassak discuss relationships and connections among their interpretations of sensory objects. Photo by Sabrine El Moutaouakkil.

How do we create categories? How do we structure knowledge? How do we recognize the subjective in the process of categorization and how do we allow this recognition to liberate us from the pre-judgements and perceptions we have inherited? How do we display and validate our interpretations in relation to other interpretive systems that exist?

How do these corporeal experiences, memories, and categories impact our reading of our urban spaces?

Yasser Benhar works on  identifying sensory locations in Casablanca. Photo by Ahlam Mahroon.

Through quick mapping exercises, participants then connected their physical (sensory) categories and memories to their cities.

Otherwise invisible moments of experience, communication, and translation thus became conceptual trajectories through the city.

How can the connection and interpretation of corporeal and urban spaces help us understand, articulate, and propose action for critical social questions? 

Participants discuss research topics of interest. Photo by Dasha Ortenberg.

Research groups formed in the first week based on a quick ideation exercise. Using GoPros, audio recorders, and cell phones, the groups started to articulate societal questions of physical and economic access in public space.

Questions of accessibility, diversity, gender, environment, and economy were among those discussed and explored. In the process, different forms of transit to explore the life of spaces such as an unfinished highway, the bus, a skatepark, and major intersections.

From left to right: stills from GoPro research footage by A. Azergui, S. El Moutaouakkil, A. Krafi, L. El Ghallab, T. Azal, Y. Zaoui, Y. Benhar, J. El Achaari.

After this initial research, groups formed based on ideation exercises exploring interests, identifying questions, and expanding skill sets. The social challenges that participants have taken on are large and complex, the products and processes proposed are eloquent and elegant; working with them to develop these is not only fascinating, but also fun!

Team Hybrid Gastronomies pitches their idea. Photo by Dasha Ortenberg.

American Arts Incubator is an initiative of the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and is administered by ZERO1. The incubator in Morocco is produced in collaboration with U.S. Consulate General in Casablanca and L'Uzine.

I can’t believe how quickly time has flown so far this month! IZOLYATSIA and the IZONE Creative Community have been incredible spaces to conduct workshops in and to connect with the arts community here in Kyiv. Before the workshops began, we received an overwhelming amount of applicants to the program. After choosing 34 artists, it has still been a very large group to work with, but full of wonderful and talented humans! The artists in the workshop make up a very diverse group of Ukrainian artists, coming from different places within the country and with varying levels of experience and background in the arts.

Workshop participants using Autodesk Meshmixer. Photo by Iuļiia Rubļevska.

Workshop participants presenting group ideas. Photo by Iuļiia Rubļevska.

It’s been an incredible delight to work with all of the artists, and to have them so engaged in learning new digital skills and envisioning new projects of their own. I’ve been so impressed by their original ideas and concepts — taking the skills I presented in my speculative design workshops and applying them to cultural and ecological issues in Kyiv and Ukraine. I was told that speculative design is not a common practice or taught very often here, and people are having a lot of fun thinking outside of practical design boundaries to reimagine future cultural spaces and technologies along the Dnipro River and elsewhere in Ukraine.

It’s been enlightening to hear about what is important to participants from their cultural context — there are some universal issues, as well as some topics that would not be considered as much by Americans due to our different backgrounds, geographies, and histories.

Anastasia Loyko presenting her vision. Photo by Iuļiia Rubļevska.

Each artist in my workshop has had a different vision and speculative design for how they would like to see the future of Ukraine and shared their vision during a critique on the penultimate day of our workshop series. Some artists were really drawn to each others' visions and decided to work together in groups, applying their skills to different parts of a bigger collaborative project. Others were drawn to common themes and have created a new project from these themes. There were some artists that had a lot of difficulty working in large collaborative groups, as this is not a common practice in Ukraine. Most participants are artists who are used to working alone.

Fortunately, after overcoming some obstacles, all the groups were in place and starting to create some incredible works. We had a group excursion to visit Fabricator, one of the biggest fabrication labs in Kyiv, and artists are using this facility to do laser cutting, CNC milling, and 3D printing in addition to IZOLab, the smaller fab lab connected to IZONE.

Visit to Fabricator, Olga Tereshchenko looking at different materials. Photo by Iuļiia Rubļevska.

Project development with Ivanka Borodina and Alina Borysova. Photo by Iuļiia Rubļevska.

I’ve been so full of warmth and inspiration working with all of the participants during this time, and am so excited to see all of the works these artists will produce over the next week.

The fierce equatorial rays, crackling fire, rising smoke, floating ashes, cultural protocols with community elders, taytas and mamakuna — these are the constant elements that have accompanied American Arts Incubator — Ecuador since we began in mid-March. We kicked off with an artist talk, “ACTivaciones: Art, Community and Technology,” at Quito's Arte Actual Flacso, which was followed by an early morning drive to the exchange city, Otavalo, to work with Casa de Artes Yarina housed in Museo Viviente Otavalango.

The following day I experienced my first press conference that would not start until the scent of palo santo pervaded the art center. The occasion was honored by a beautiful arrangement of wild flowers collected from the surrounding fields on a totora mat to celebrate friendship and diversity. Community life is very vibrant here. I was quickly integrated into communal lunches and invited into people’s homes. My host partner’s contemporary Kichwa music group, Yarina, is a band made up of eleven brothers and sisters that perform together with a three decade trajectory. Community is a permanent fiber in local culture.

Hosting a press conference on American Arts Incubator — Ecuador at Casa de Artes, Museo Viviente Otavalango. Photo by L. Merinio Maldonado.

My incubator participants vary in age, education level, class and heritage backgrounds, as several come from different native communities in the Imbabura province while many others identify as mestizo. Trying to find a way to address social inclusion through art and technology within a new cultural context and such a diverse group has required me to further explore cultural protocols, race relations and cultural specificities.

American Arts Incubator — Ecuador field trip to Pakarinka Learning Center in Agato. Photo by L. Merinio Maldonado.

Our first day of workshops focused on exploring power dynamics and shared values within our group, getting to know the historical context of Museo Viviente Otavalango’s previous life as a factory that exploited Indigenous laborers and developing intro-level AR experiences. We also had a hands-on learning experience at Pakarinka Culture Center to learn about ancestral customs with Kichwa culture bearers. This day included healing with the sacred “cuy” (guinea pig) and medicinal plants, meeting traditional healers and midwives, and creating a pachamanka meal together as we discussed connecting to cultural roots and indigenous revitalization.

To contrast the learning experience in a rural setting, we also toured Ciudad Yachay’s (Ciudad de Conocimiento) state-of-the-art facilities including a supercomputer, fablab, technology and entrepreneurship initiatives.

American Arts Incubator — Ecuador field trip to Ciudad Yachay. Here the participants are learning about the FabLab's facilities and business incubator programs. Photo by L. Merinio Maldonado.

All of these experiences helped us develop community projects that address social inclusion using cultural and educational methodologies. As I write, they are in full production mode as we gear up to install prototypes this week and pitch the projects to potential supporters. One of the projects, Yuyay, is an effort to create site-specific AR-activated murals in Museo Viviente Otavalango.

The project engages deeply with what it means to be an “Art, Community and Technology” incubator in a small Andean city in Ecuador. When we think of the word technology, we often think of 20th century innovations. Yet, as I mentioned in my previous blog post, this incubator accounts for ancestral technology. Otavalango’s previous life until the eighties was the Fábrica San Pedro that employed native workers under harsh conditions to produce woven textiles. This was the first factory in Ecuador and produced woven goods made from "telar callua," a pre-Incan form of backstrap weaving.

Interviewing Tayta Lucho. Photo by Beatrice Glow.

Oral history interview session at the Old Factory San Pedro with weaving expert Luis Zambrano Quilumba. Photo by Beatrice Glow.

By the mid-19th century, the factory imported mechanical weaving looms from Boston to maximize production. Fast forward to 2018, and we are engaging digital media in an arts incubator to retrace the social history of the site through the impacts of the industrial revolution and the persistent threads of ancestral technology.

Community Project "YUYAY" hosting an intergenerational dialogue with ex-factory workers and labor union organizers. Photo by Beatrice Glow.

Oral history interview session at the Old Factory San Pedro with José René Zambrano Cachimuel, president of the cooperative Museo Viviente Otavalango. Photo by Beatrice Glow.

While I teach augmented reality workshops, I am also taking weaving classes in the old factory and getting an inkling of how contemporary machinery evolved from this ancient practice. Weaving is coding in binary motions, performing mathematical calculations, enacting geometry and executing precision. It is also about transmitting oral history, ancestral knowledge and following the movements of those who came before us in the social fabric.

Beatrice Glow teaching an AR application development workshop at Casa Cruz, Museo Viviente Otavalango. Photo by L. Merinio Maldonado.
Weaving project in progress. Photo by Beatrice Glow.

I have thought a lot about what I would have done differently now that I have completed the exchange in Kochi, juggling tight deadlines within a demanding program. My first thought was that I should have chosen an easy personal project — something that I was completely familiar with and could turn out for an expecting crowd. The problem with this is that I have been an artist too long to not challenge myself. The point is the process, right? To grow­ and try to make sense of it all, and be successful in a way that feels like a true accomplishment. It is what I was asking workshop participants to do — to leave the comfort of aesthetically pleasing art behind to address an uncomfortable topic like gender equality and wrestle with it, focusing on exploring this challenge over the desire to make something impressive, finished, or entertaining without concept. If I was asking this of them, then I needed to set the example myself.

Discussing garment designs at Seamstress. Photo by Swanoop John.

The success of my project was in supporting a locally-owned, female-run textile business during this exchange, and accomplishing a project, initially intended to use pirate radio broadcast methods, in a way that was respectful of Indian law. I also thoroughly enjoyed talking to five generous womxn who were willing to have their stories of struggle and success recorded for this project. It is content that I hope to build upon as I figure out how this idea will evolve.

The artist at work. Photo by Swanoop John.

When I think about choosing an easier project, or trying to be less ambitious with the Amplified Voice Workshops, or even being assigned a topic that was less challenging than addressing gender equality, I keep hearing a popular Malayalam saying that is told as a warning to girls: “Whether a thorn falls on a leaf, or a leaf on a thorn, it is the leaf that will suffer.” This saying reminds me of the necessity for all womxn to experience life, freedom, and respect in spite of the obstacles in our global patriarchal society, and I can’t help but to hope that instead of suffering, we can begin to see the leaf as transformed into something new, which will soon ignite a fire.

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